How to Respond to Your Church Planting Call: An Aspen Podcast Featuring Patrick O'Connell Blog Feature
Marian V. Liautaud

By: Marian V. Liautaud on September 19, 2017

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How to Respond to Your Church Planting Call: An Aspen Podcast Featuring Patrick O'Connell

Culture | Leadership | Multisite | church facilities | church planting | Ministry

The tug. The calling. The spiritual tap on the shoulder. However you describe it, you're certain that God has laid it on your heart to plant a church. But you're less certain on what to do next.

Where would you plant it? How do you gather a team? Do you have staff ready to launch these new churches? And if so, how will they actually do it? Who's going to pay for it? What kind of budget is even needed?

Or maybe you're on the other end of the spectrum. Maybe you're an experienced church planter who now leads multiple campuses. How do you not only hold it all together but also maintain energy as you try to keep your organization moving forward?

In episode 4 of the Alignment Conference podcast, Patrick O'Connell, director of NewThing Network, answers several key questions about church planting and expansion strategies. Whether you're brand new to church planting or a seasoned veteran, Patrick shares a wealth of information for church planters and leaders who are eager to answer God's call to plant a church.

R E G I S T E R   N O W

Read the Full Transcript Below:

Evan McBroom: Welcome to the Aspen Group Alignment Conference podcast where we're talking about launching your next church. Whether you're looking at multisite or planting a church, a merger with other churches, or something completely different this conference is for church leaders who are thinking strategically about expansion.

I'm Evan McBroom, the founder of Fishhook, and it's our pleasure and honor to be a co-sponsor at the 2017 Alignment Conference along with Aspen Group, who really completely leads the way on this. I'm joined by Marian Liautaud, who is the director of marketing for Aspen Group. Marian, how are you?

Marian Liautaud: Hey, Evan. I'm good today.

Evan McBroom: I'm glad you're here. We're having a great time having this conversation. Really focused on what's going to take place at the Alignment Conference on October 17 at Thrive Christian Church in Westfield, Indiana, which is just north of Indianapolis. Marian, set the stage for us about the conference for people who aren't familiar with it.

Marian Liautaud: Yeah, Alignment Conference is a one-day event for senior pastors and ministry leaders who are really thinking strategically about how they do church. Every year the theme is different. This year, we're gonna be looking at launching your next church, for churches that really have an expansion plan. They're really working to move into some new locations and just expand.

Evan McBroom: This is somewhat built off of a big research project that you led the way on with Barna Group, tell us about that.

Marian Liautaud: Right, so last year we released a new study with Barna called, More Than Multisite, and it looked at all of the many ways that churches are expanding — whether it's church planting, multisite, or any hybrid variation of it. That study really takes a deep dive into it. At this conference again this year, we'll take another look at what the data says and then what experts and practitioners who are doing multisite, what they can share with us to learn how to do it better.

Evan McBroom: Awesome. Bringing into that conversation, More Than Multisite really leads to the question of planting and other strategies. That's why we have with us Patrick O'Connell, who is the director of NewThing Network out of Chicago. Patrick, good to have you with us today.

Patrick O'Connell: Great to be with all of you.

Evan McBroom: Tell us a little bit about the NewThing Network for people who aren't familiar with it.

Patrick O'Connell: Yeah, we are really interested in multiplying God's kingdom. We call ourselves a catalyst for movements of reproducing churches. We're global in scope, and we're aligned around the mission of God. We feel that's essential. That is what can call us all to the table of collaboration, if you will. It's really centered on four values. (1) Relationships . . . we believe that the right relationships catalyze reproducing. (2) Reproducing is at the core of what we do, and we talk about reproducing the micro and the macro. I'll talk about our cultures of reproducing in our churches, leadership development, things like that. (3) Resources . . . I'm a big fan of I Corinthians 12. God talks about the whole body of Christ working toward the goal of the unity of Christ and the body. We really stress that. We really put some effort into that. It's all about sharing the kingdom resources that God's deployed into our churches and into our networks. Then finally, . . . (4) Residency is all about raising up the next generation of church leaders to go out and start new churches. We call that a church planter apprentice. It's a 9-12 month experience at a NewThing church where reproducing is caught more than taught. That's an opportunity for them to do that. We're working all over the world at this point, and I'm just trying to keep up with all of the great things that God's doing.

Evan McBroom: Awesome. I love your enthusiasm. You spoke at the conference last year. Marian, take us where you want to go on the conversation with Patrick, if you would.

Marian Liautaud: Thanks Evan. Well, Patrick you were one of our most highly-rated breakout speakers. We have really been looking back at the transcripts from your session that you did, and you have a wealth of information to share with planters and just people who are really thinking strategically about church.

>What I'd love to start with is, you actually participated in the More Than Multisite study with us. You were part of the qualitative interviews. We videotaped you, interviewed you out in California, and asked you all about — for church planters and people wanting to expand — what are some of the challenges that you see with . . . especially first-time planters as they're thinking about how to launch a new church. Just walk us through a couple of the biggest challenges that you see planters facing.

Patrick O'Connell: Thanks for the kind words, by the way. That's very kind of you. The good news is that more people are thinking about church planting. I think we have really done well — collectively as the North American Church, in particular — inserting into the conversation about mission that new churches need to be started if we're going to achieve the Jesus mission. That's the good news. Lots of churches and leaders that I speak to want to plant new churches.

I think they get stuck in the how and the challenges that they face come down to really two core issues for me. Number one is leaders. They don't have leaders at the ready to go out and start these new churches. Then there's always, what I call, the finance/nuts and bolts challenge. Exactly, how do I do this? How do I gather a team? What kind of a budget do I need to do this? Frankly, who is gonna pay for all of this? That's what we try to lean into and answer those questions when we're talking to church planters.

Marian Liautaud: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Good. Do you see church planters struggling over facilities or do you find that's just a future topic for them?

Patrick O'Connell: Well, of course facility is essential to the starting of a brand new church. We're very careful about helping our church planters identify the right facility to launch in. Most of the time, if I can just broadly speak, most of the time that's in some sort of a school or public facility where they are going to gather community together and then hopefully raise them up to go back out and be the church.

We do, interestingly enough, have conversations about facility really day one. Where are you gonna launch? What's that gonna look like? What are some of the major community centers in the location where you feel God is calling you. Then of course, more of a longer-term facility strategy is something that I think that all church planters need to be thinking about, because at some point, God willing, they're going to grow a church. If they're going to start new churches, they're going to need a great place to do it. I love the idea of sending centers. That our facilities can become places where we send people out for the mission of God. That's at least one of the ways I think about it.

Marian Liautaud: Good. Leadership is a huge component for being about to plant well and then plant multiple churches. Can you talk a little bit about the place that leadership plays in being prepared to launch? What prepares somebody to be a church planter? What do they need?

Patrick O'Connell: I think it really does start with calling. It's a highly mysterious and spiritual phenomenon, if you ask me. I still get goosebumps when you've got somebody before you who said, "Hey look, I think God's calling me to do this. I really don't know what this is supposed to even look like, but I want to be faithful to what God is doing." There is that spiritual tap on the shoulder, if you will. Then really what it does is, it's a conversation that begins, and for us context is really what is most important here. If that person is not . . . they don't have a ministry background of any sort . . . you're going to have to have a certain set of conversations with them that you would otherwise have with somebody who, let's say went to Bible college, who had served some time in a church, or been on staff at a church. I look at that between the . . . I call it the free and the farm system.

The free agents are, let's say, former youth leaders or pastors or ministry leaders who have been on staff at a church. They kind of know the landscape, but they feel God's calling them to this work. And they want to go out and plant. Those are our free agents. There's a whole group of people in our churches, and I'm a big fan of Ephesians 4. The gifting is there in the body. It's latent in the body. Our challenge when it comes to leadership is really how do we unlock that gifting, that potential, that latent potential within the body of Christ? I call that the farm system. I'm always advocating that churches and/or church planters or networks, they need to be thinking about both of them at the same time . . . the both/and.

The good news is that — through conferencing, through training, through coaching — I think we've done a really great job of attracting the free agents. I'm speaking specifically of the North American context. If God calls you to plant a church, there are great networks and conferences and training that you can hitch your wagon to. I think we're only gonna see movement if we really tap into the body of Christ — that farm system, if you will.

That's really my story. I didn't grow up a Christian. I was very far from God. But when I found my way back to God here at Community {Christian Church} in Chicago, I found language and license for the mission. Language to get on the mission, and license to go out and do it. Of course, I didn't have any ministry experience. I have since gone back to Wheaton College and gotten a Master's in theology. My point being is that we have a robust farm system here at Community {Christian Church}. It's not perfect, however, it's intentional.

It has produced a great many leaders to go out and plant churches. That was part of my story. I ended up leaving a business — a lucrative one at that — and going out and planting churches in Kansas City with a team of people. And it was a great, wonderful experience. Free and the farm . . . I think churches and networks need to be focused on both.

Evan McBroom: Then if someone responds to that calling, you said they're looking for resources — hungry for resources — and that you make them available. What are some of the most sought after resources that church planters are looking for? How do you answer the call for those?

Patrick O'Connell: I can really describe what we've done here in terms of NewThing at Community in our leadership training center. But there's three rails, if you will, or three lines that I think that the church planter has to take on his journey. Number one is relationships. You have to build networks of relationships as a church planter. You just need to be good at that. Being a resident at a large church that plants churches is a great way to network with people. Second is really the nuts and bolts track, if you will. How do you start a launch team? How do you balance a budget? How do you know what to go after in the community? The nuts and bolts of what it takes to launch a new church, which is obviously very much similar to what it takes to launch a new business.

Evan McBroom: That's what I was just thinking, with your background it's perfect.

Patrick O'Connell: It's perfect, it's perfect yeah. There is a monster amount of detail that needs to be addressed by at least the church planter, who should be delegating some of this. It needs to be addressed by the church planter. We call that the "nuts and bolts." Then, there's more like a theological track. What is the mission of God? How does that get realized in the world? What is my personal calling? How is God calling me to lean into that?

Wheaton built a leadership development pathway, if you will, that is really in three parts. Track one, we call it: Learn to Lead Yourself. You just got to be good at self leadership. That's what track one is all about. We help you do that. Track two is:  Learn to Lead a Team. If you can't lead a team well and reproduce that team, chances are you're going to struggle to actually plant and reproduce a church. That's what we talk about in track two. Then track three is:  Planting a Reproducing Church. I do put the emphasis on "reproducing" because I think, as you set out as a church planter, to plant a church you have to ask yourself a set of questions. How am I going do that? Who's going to go with me? How am I going to pay for it? If you set out to plant 10 churches, you're asking a whole different set of questions to accomplish that.

We're dreamers at NewThing. We're visionaries, I hope. The planters that we work with, we're pushing them to think and dream big, because we think God's capable of doing all of that.

Evan McBroom: What do planters tend to underestimate?

Patrick O'Connell: How much time and energy it takes to actually lead people. It's a really good question. You have to be a great leader of people. I don't mean that there is a dearth of that in the world, you just have to learn how to lead people well. At the end of the day, it's about people. Ministry is about people. I think they tend to focus on what needs to be done, rather than who needs to be involved and who I need to be connecting with and who is God calling to be a part of this team. So it's the people part. Then, the proverbial ongoing joke is, "I never realized I'd have to raise that much money."

Evan McBroom: Which is kind of like a business also.

Patrick O'Connell: Correct. Of course, I'm only speaking in North American context in our model of church planting, but money is certainly a challenge.

Marian Liautaud: I asked you first about first-time church planters, but because you are really focused on helping churches reproduce, what about churches that have five, six, seven or more campuses — or not necessarily campuses but churches — that they plant. Does it ever get easier and are there specific challenges that you encounter when you're at that level where you're really reproducing quickly?

Patrick O'Connell: It's a fantastic question. Let me speak of NewThing broadly, and then I'll drill into the multisite. At NewThing we have elected to be what we call a centered-set organization. If you think about the difference between a bounded set and a centered set, a bounded set is you've got your four walls. You're either in or out. Here's what the organization is about. Here's our mission and values. Are you in it or are you out of it? That's great, and that accomplishes a certain aspect of the mission.

We've elected to be a centered set. We're aligned around those four values that I gave you. We have great diversity in NewThing. We have Southern Baptist churches, AG churches, independent churches, whatever, as long as they're kind of confessing Evangelicals we're good with it. I have opted that we're going to be a centered-set organization.

I think in a different way, multisite is similar. It's really what's going to accomplish the mission. If the mission is to reach people with the gospel, that's the first question. How are we going to do that? Well, if multisite allows us to do that — better than planting new churches — then one should elect to be a multisite church. I think frankly, it's a combination of both. I think multisite is a good step toward planting, and then there are some churches who never hit multisite and go right on to planting. I think it's a both/and.

To your point Marian and to your question, the larger and the greater number of campuses you have, it just gets that much more difficult to . . . I shouldn't say difficult . . . challenging to lead. You have to hold the center together. Your energy is diffused as you try to keep this thing moving forward. It often produces great results, don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of multisite, but you have to be honest about the amount of energy that it takes to keep that thing moving. It's the difference between being able to sail around the ocean in a battleship versus being in an armada. An armada is going to just be a lot of firepower, but it's got to move in a different way. It's going to move slowly and differently than if you were just a single ship. That's the way I look at it anyway.

Marian Liautaud: That's a cool visual, I love that. Patrick, for NewThing where are you guys headed? What's coming up? Then, how do leaders plug into NewThing if they're interested?

Patrick O'Connell: Yeah, thanks for that. Well, we're visionaries. We're just a bunch of apostolic leaders who are wondering how do we plant more churches together. We have a plan to conquer the world.

Marian Liautaud: I love it.

Evan McBroom: It's not evil. It's good, it's good.

Patrick O'Connell: With love, with love that's for sure. We have nine regions of the world. We have a goal to plant 10,000 reproducing churches by 2020. As I speak, I'm leading various teams in various regions. For instance, I was just on the phone with our African team this morning. I was speaking to our North American director this afternoon. I spoke to our global residency director yesterday. I had a conversation with some planters that we're sending to Johannesburg, South Africa. It's just this wonderful medley of the global church coming together.

For your listeners who want to be a part of NewThing, I would love to chat with them. is where you can go on the web. Because we're official, we have an app you could download the NewThing app and that is another great way to connect with us.

Evan McBroom: Patrick, thanks so much for joining us today. Love your enthusiasm and your energy. I'm just grateful that you're using all of that to further and build the kingdom.

Patrick O'Connell: It's my pleasure to be with you. Thanks so much for the time.

Evan McBroom: You bet. Marian, anything as we close to point us towards the conference. Anything you want us to know?

Marian Liautaud: Yeah, we would love leaders to sign up for the Alignment Conference on It's Tuesday, October 17 in Westfield, Indiana.

Evan McBroom: Awesome. Marian, thanks for being in the studio today. Patrick, thanks for joining us. That brings to a close this edition of The Aspen Group Alignment Conference podcast.


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About Marian V. Liautaud

Marian served as Aspen's Director of Marketing from 2014 to 2021, sharing stories about how Aspen designs, builds, and furnishes space for ministry impact.